By Gabe Brison-Trezise
“Before we talked to anyone, I just wanted to say sorry to my friends,” Dan Kipp ’14 said.
The week before Thanksgiving break, Kipp and Pat Schober ’14 draped white sheets over themselves and walked around campus as a “public stunt.” While he expected to draw responses, Kipp said he was surprised some people construed the pair’s ghost costumes as Ku Klux Klan garb. “You know how people do weird things on YouTube in public places to get reactions? That’s kind of how I saw it,” he stated.
The incident was followed by an investigation by the College and an open discussion held by the Black Student Union (BSU).
“We received two calls from the library about it,” Director of Campus Safety Bob Hooper said. “It was just a disturbance; it was distracting.” He added, “The officer said they looked like Halloween ghosts; that was his interpretation of it. Nobody gave the appearance that they were offended. Otherwise it would have been very different. Had they had the hoods on and everything else, it would have been very different.”
Chris Wright ’14, president of the BSU, called a meeting the evening after the incident in response to demand both from members of the group and other students. “It was like two random people walking around. ﾅ So many thoughts were stirring in my mind and so many other people’s minds because there was no explanation. So it was a big shock and a bit intense,” he said. “I think there was a lot of confusion, like why it even happened, and confusion as to why people didn’t necessarily understand why some people would take offense.”
After the incident, Kipp sent an all-student email apologizing for the incident. “I hurt my friends’ feelings and a lot of other people’s feelings, too,” he explained to the Collegian. He said he wanted to assuage people’s fears as well.
Kipp also asked Wright if he and Schober could attend the BSU meeting in order to explain themselves and offer an apology. “They were ready to have the discussion that should be being had,” Kipp said, “as opposed to sometimes you look in the comments in The Thrill and other places.” He cited “ignorant” remarks made on an article that Business Insider ran about the incident.
Dean of Students Hank Toutain applauded the way Kipp, Schober, Wright and others dealt with the incident. “My understanding is that it was a pretty good conversation; it was a candid conversation,” he said. “I’m very proud of Kenyon students in this case. Because it’s the kind of situation that easily could have resulted in acrimonious conversation, contentious conversation, and that conversation might have ended in a way that was not that positive moving forward.
“Where I think it ended up is with some people committed to talking about this a little bit further, so that it isn’t just an event that happened x-number of days ago and eventually we just forget about it, but maybe something that might actually to get us to think differently about our responsibility as individuals within this broader community,” Toutain added.
Citing recent vandalism to Hispanic Heritage Month and Unity House flags, Wright noted that the BSU is tentatively planning to organize an expanded discussion next semester about the “general lack of respect on campus for people that are different than the majority.
“I don’t think it’s a pointing-fingers-at-anyone type of thing; I think it’s more people just not understanding,” Wright said. “And it’s not necessarily their fault. It’s their walk of life that permits them to understand certain events and not understand certain things. That needs to be addressed within our community, how there is a disconnect between one another.”
Toutain indicated the College was reviewing Safety’s response to the incident as a matter of procedure, and Hooper noted his department may handle future events of this nature differently.
“Even if it’s a practical-joke-type thing, not meant to be offensive but can have that connotation, we’ll handle it differently,” Hooper said. “If someone has a costume on that we get called about, we’ll take that extra step to make sure that the students that are involved, we get them back to their residence, they can put [the costumes] away, and they just don’t have the chance to put them back on.”